How-To make sense of unhelpful Windows 10 error messages

Background

A couple of days ago, I tried to copy some photos from my Lumia 930 to my freshly upgraded Windows 10 machine, instead of copying the files over, I was presented with a couple of error messages (see figures 1 and 2 below).

Figure 1. Error dialog with error message: Something went wrong, and buttons labelled ‘Try again’ and ‘Close’.
Figure 2. Error dialog with error message: Error Copying File or Folder. Unspecified error, and a button labelled ‘OK’.

The error messages, as you can see, are completely unhelpful to the point they’re infuriating; and then an old colleague of mine reminded me that I should check my Event log. To my delight, there was actually a detailed error message recorded in the Application event log.

So if you encounter any unhelpful error messages like me on Windows 10, have a look in your Application event log. I have provided a step-by-step guide below for those who have not used the Event Viewer before.

Using Event Viewer to see more details about an error

Step 1: Open Event Viewer via Quick Access Menu

Figure 3. Quick Access menu.

There are many ways to open the Event Viewer, but by far, the easiest way is to use the Quick Access menu.

  • Press ‘Windows‘ + ‘X‘ keys simultaneously on your keyboard or right-click on the Windows icon in the Windows Taskbar;
  • then select Event Viewer from the list of options.

Step 2: Navigate to Application log

Figure 4. Event Viewer with Application tree list item selected.

In Event Viewer, on the left hand column, you will find a tree view control.

  • If ‘Event Viewer (Local)‘ is collapsed, expand it by double-clicking on it.
  • Under ‘Event Viewer (Local)‘, expand the item ‘Windows Logs‘ by single-clicking on the arrow on left of label; or alternatively, double-clicking on the ‘Windows Logs‘ label itself.
  • Finally, single-click on ‘Application‘ to select the Application Log.

Step 3: Select relevant item in Application log

Figure 5. Error details of a setting sync error in Event Viewer.

Now you have the Application Log in front of you, you need to find the specific error. Below are few things you can do to help in your search:

  • Click on ‘Level’ column header to sort by ‘Level’
  • Click on ‘Date and Time’ column header to sort by ‘Date and Time’
  • Apply a filter using ‘Filter Current Log’ in Actions panel on right hand side

What I normally do is: sort by ‘Date and Time’, then jump to date time I experienced the error and go through all the errors that happened at that time (errors are indicated by icon and Error label).

Step 4 (optional): Google for a solution to error

If the error details still makes no sense, which is 80% of the time, copy & paste the error details into Google and see what others have to say.